The Day Sid Marty Didn’t Kill Andrew Suknaski

This Labour Day seems a critical mass of synchronicities:  yesterday, John Ashbery’s death was announced; the final two episodes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks:  The Return were broadcast; and this morning a memorial to Canada’s (Saskatchewan’s?) Andrew Suknaski appeared. Even more, the anecdote it concerns took place at exactly the same time I was writing my first poems under the tutelage of John Newlove, “then writer-in-residence” at the Regina Public Library, who was kind enough to introduce me to Andy.

All this seems to urge a wider dissemination of Sid Marty’s article, which you can read by clicking on the portrait of Andy, below.

Suknaski big


Jerome Rothenberg on “The Symposium of the Whole”

Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred has been central and essential to my understanding of what poetry is and can be since I first started teaching from it at the turn of the millennium. I find it difficult even to discuss poetry and poetics in an informed fashion with anyone unfamiliar with it, or with those equally expansive volumes, assembling poems for the millennium, that followed.


Now, Technicians is being issued in a third edition, fifty years after the first. On this auspicious occasion, Jerome Rothenberg offers some words on the reissue and its timeliness, given the rise of ethnonationalisms, on the one hand, and the on-going extinctions of languages, their poetries, and speakers and singers, on the other. Linked is a talk on the new edition and ethnopoetics given recently at the The Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne.

Ignore at the peril to your own poetic spirit.


(Too) little has changed in a generation…

In a book of interviews and correspondence between Julia Martin and Gary Snyder, I read the following in a letter from Snyder dated 28 August 1987 (!):

…the wealth in America is at the top, and there are vast numbers of very poor people, not all of them black or brown by any means. The US is not economically top country, some of those northern European places like Sweden and West Germany are higher. Even Japan, these days. Homeless visible in the streets of every city & some of the larger towns; real rural poverty, numbers of school dropouts that are never pursued, if kids quit schools these days the schools forget them—lousy schools in any case. Most of the US has a kind of hard-bitten disorderly anti-intellectual anti-establishment funk. (136)nobodyhomesmall

Here’s hoping this thirty years of plus ça change is only an eclipse in historical time of more humane, progressive tendencies.

I’ve long said, Gary Snyder is one of the sanest sentient beings on the planet. To read more, you can order the book from the publisher by clicking on the cover…


For the moment, a poem…

201118_lIn No Man’s Land

Wise Kung Fu


Waited out

One whole moon

on ‘is lutestrings


What tunes could fill those twentyeight days a woman’s monthly round

Did he have a copy of the classic anthology at his fingers’ tips

Asleep fingers twitch dreamquick licks


from March End Prill

News that stays news: On the Verbal Art of the Plain-spoken Poem

IMG_2521Recently, I’ve found myself caught up in a couple of on-line discussions where the topic turned to the reception of the “accessible” poem, one whose language is self-effacing and limpid.

One of my interlocutors, Chris Banks, put the matter quite well:

People are either terrified of being accessible, or terrified of meaning itself, leaving nothing for critics to puzzle out, or else are more interested in the surprise, the bizarre, the magic trick ahhhhh….

Problem is we need more perceptive readers of poetry who can establish what a poem is trying to do without equating sincerity with shortcomings, accessibility with simplicity, etc. I long for a day when we don’t have to announce a book has formalist elements on the jacket copy of books in this country. However, if you don’t, no one looks for such elements.

At a time in English-language poetry in North America when the poem that draws attention to its artfulness in various ways for various reasons is arguably in the ascendant, perhaps it’s time reconsider à rebours the innate and intricate artfulness of the poem that doesn’t parade its poeticity in “a coat / Covered with embroideries” but that takes up the challenge that “there’s more enterprise / In walking naked.”

To wit, I direct the interested reader to an intentionally perverse close analysis of the prosody of a brief poem by Elaine Equi, “Prescription”.


Poems online now easily accessible

A little editorial labour at ye olde website here now makes all my poems online easily accessible, for interested parties:  here.

Six new poems up at Dispatches

Dispatches from the Poetry Wars has most generously posted six hitherto unknown poems of mine in their summer upload.

It’s a vast and provocative site, well worth the time.


Saint Patrick’s Day 2003

Below is a poem from my 2011 volume March End Prill (BookThug) marking an intersection of the calendar’s circle and history’s line of singularities.

Saint Patrick’s Day 2003


libera agonalia nefastus publicus

I’d love to tell of sudden fish



late end of January Friday afternoon

New Square Fish Market New Square NY NY Luis

Luis Nivelo single handed lifts a flashing carp on the scale 20lb

Then out and down club up to club it for Sabbath gefilte

    tzaruch     shemirah     hasof     bah    !

Diablo! 57-year-old Skver Hasid Zalmen Rosen

11 children “Luis, what?!” I heard that fish talk! 

tzaruch     shemirah    Old Abraham

buried last week? Adonai?    hasof     bah

“account for yourself

“the end is near

“pray & study the Torah”



St Patrick’s: Shamrock Irish triple deities

long before Patrick’s Trinity; Roman festival

of Mars, an enormous phallus paraded

through the streets: green for sex festivals the fashion;

Middle Ages the day Noah boarded the Ark:

World Maritime Day.



…Saddam Hussein’s got 48 hours…

…the Day of Iraq’s Liberation is near…

…do not destroy oil wells…

…do not follow orders to use Weapons of Mass Destruction…

…“I was just following orders” no excuse…

…we are a peaceful people…

…not intimidated by thuggery or murder…

…new and undeniable realities…

…a policy of appeasement toward…

…plotters of chemical, biological, or nuclear terror…

…the just demands of the world…

…to overcome violence…

…the future we choose…

…& may God continue

to bless America



Thursday morning Kenneth Masterson out the front door for his paper

“five or six dead fish about 10 or 12 inches long out by th’edge of my yard”

in the street more some rush hour road kill more across

“don’t look like they’ve been hooked”

might be white bass no ponds or lakes near

“really bad storms I wonder if some twister didn’t just pickemup & dropem”



imagine being “jess a pohet”

in Baghdad; who gives a fugg


if you care little abt Saddam

& less abt Geawge Dablya,


jess wanna pen yr little

quirky sufi scrapings


in peace, pumpin yr 2 wives — thassall

ye kin afford– chewing yr majoun like:


you’ll be incinerated along with them

maddogs jess ’cause ya happen to be an Iraqi!!!


I believe it ain’t unright fr me to

feel some solidarity with benighted pohets


‘n’ artists cowering in bum shelters,

disfigured into faceless monsters a la


Saddam. I is dead certain

there are more than one confreres there


who write Je est un autre — only we

aren’t allowed to see them, knowem.


Is there such a thing as Iraqi samizdat

how to send ’em secret artists a sign?


The Dawson College Shooting ten years on

Ten years ago I had just left Montreal’s Dawson College where I teach English on my way to pick up a book I’d ordered around the corner when I heard the shooting‘s opening salvo strafe the entrance I’d just left.

On the tenth anniversary of the shooting (I won’t probe the logic of the anniversary-as-such, here) I repost this  reminiscence and reflection that was solicited by the University of Regina’s alumni magazine Degrees and published in the Spring 2007 issue. The photograph at the post’s end is of Dawson’s Peace Garden, planted “as a living testament” to that day, its wounded, and sad, single mortality.

Asked about my experience of what I have come to call “9/13”, I always tell the same story. I’d just left by the same door the shooter was to walk through and hadn’t gotten more than ten metres when I heard what sounded like a string of firecrackers. I turned, ready to give someone a lesson about setting off fireworks in front of the school. Students scattered in every direction. One lay on his back on the street near the curb, his friend crouching over him, one hand on his stomach, her cell phone in the other, screaming for an ambulance. A tall lanky fellow all in black slouched toward the door with what to me looked like an Uzi. A police cruiser pulled up, doors flung open, cops already halfway out, guns in hand. I’d heard gunshots do sound like firecrackers, but before I knew whether I was seeing a joke or a student film project or the real thing, the shooter—and police—were already in the school.

What to do? I wasn’t so much disoriented as unoriented. What was clear was there was nothing I could do, so, as strange as it seems in retrospect, I continued the way I was going, to pick up a book I’d ordered from around the corner. Around that corner, another two police stood over another youth, cuffed, face down on the asphalt. Had a drug deal or bank job gone wrong and one of the suspects fled into Dawson? I walked on. Seeing my office mate and some friends through the window of an Indian restaurant, I went in and told them I thought there’d been a shooting at Dawson, gave them my tentative explanation, then carried on to get my book.

I went back to Dawson to see how things turned out. A crowd of students, many I recognized and some I spoke to, milled about, uncertain, bemused, shocked. Many teary-eyed, frantically tried to call friends or parents on their cell-phones, the sheer number of their calls jamming the network. There were rumours of another shooter in Place Alexis Nihon, the mall across the street. My theory seemed confirmed. I talked with teachers and administrators, trying, like everyone, to figure out what exactly was going on. Marked and unmarked police cruisers and emergency vehicles roared by. A police or news helicopter chattered overhead.

I wasn’t to get “the full story” until I got home, turned on the television and checked the internet. Not two hours after I’d heard those first shots I came home to emails and phone messages from friends and relatives as far away as Europe. Though a witness, I had, like anybody else, to access the news media to find out what had happened. At the speed of light the entire planet knew something had happened at Dawson College in Montreal, and only an on-going buzz of speculation after that.

The next day, Thursday, when what had basically happened had been determined—one student killed, twenty wounded (three who had studied with me)—I was briefly interviewed by a talk radio show in Saskatchewan. One question stands out. I was asked how I felt as I witnessed the event, “did everything start to go in slow-motion?”. No, because I wasn’t watching TV or a movie: there were no special effects, no jump-cuts, no soundtrack. I didn’t know what I was seeing. Unless one has had first-hand experience of this kind of violence, one lacks the context to even perceive the event for what it is. Though we “witness” countless hours of violence on the news, on television and cinema, the stereotypical depictions we absorb are not “the real thing”, which, surprisingly, is impressive for its underwhelming banality. One of the wounded was so distanced from the event that he stood on a balcony overlooking the scene and took half a dozen shots with this cell phone while the shooter fired back.

Seven days, to the minute, after the first shots were fired, in a widely-reported rite, the students took back their school. All their actions—the memorials inside the school, their returning when and how they did—all seemed, mostly, to express a healthy resentment toward this murderous intrusion by an absolute outsider. 9/13 was in this and every respect uncanny, “out of our ken”, outside our acquaintance and beyond our grasp. Despite the on-going police and journalistic investigation, it remains so, and should.


Photo: Shawn Apel/CBC

Multiversic takes on 9/11

Despite its being the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Sunday, I had decided to, here, pass over the event in silence. Then, The Griffin Trust website posted Fanny Howe’s “9/11”.

I was struck—as I often am—by the commentary accompanying the poem:

Is it virtually impossible to write about certain events that are too immense, too devastating, too charged on so many levels? To go into the specifics, one risks being maudlin, self-absorbed, short-sighted, too emotional. To try to broaden the discussion and perhaps recklessly try to scale something to the universal, one risks being too political, polarizing or simply missing the mark.

Howe’s poem, of course, avoids being too “self-absorbed” and “too political”—by “suggesting the heart of the event’s impact, is how it affects who and what we love.” I wonder what the commentator thinks of Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy or Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony or Holocaust.

By way of contrast and to broaden and concretize the discussion, let me offer these two poetic texts that both fail to escape the commentator’s extremes: “The Tao of 9/11”  by Peter Dale Scott (that both goes “into specifics” and is “too political”) and one of my own, excerpted from a longer work, that, too, is “too specific,” composed, as it was, in real time.

Writing a poetry including history is no easy matter, and the question how far the “heart of the matter” escapes history’s particulars and the machinations of power no less demanding.